Sutta where the Buddha says some people are unteachable

I recall there being a sutta where the Buddha says that some people are unable to learn the Dhamma, but I can’t recall the citation or the context. I thought perhaps it was a list in AN that might refer to the capacities of different kinds of learners, but I’ve been looking and can’t find anything like that. Someone suggested to me it was a sutta where Ananda asked the Buddha to teach someone, but the Buddha explained that the person would be incapable of understanding, but they didn’t have the sutta name. Does anyone recall what sutta this might be?

there’ definitly one in MN? I think where someone asks the Buddha if all the students who are taught the dhamma reach enlightenment and by analogy with giving directions to a village the buddha says they merely indicate the way and whether or not the person makes it to enlightenment is up to them, and some get lost etc, but I can’t for the life of me think of the name of it and when you seach the internet the dhammapada reference to pointing the way get in the way! :slight_smile:


Found it!


“When his disciples are instructed and advised like this by Master Gotama, do all of them achieve the ultimate goal, extinguishment, or do some of them fail?”
“kiṁ nu kho bhoto gotamassa sāvakā bhotā gotamena evaṁ ovadīyamānā evaṁ anusāsīyamānā sabbe accantaṁ niṭṭhaṁ nibbānaṁ ārādhenti udāhu ekacce nārādhentī”ti?

“Some succeed, while others fail.”
“Appekacce kho, brāhmaṇa, mama sāvakā mayā evaṁ ovadīyamānā evaṁ anusāsīyamānā accantaṁ niṭṭhaṁ nibbānaṁ ārādhenti, ekacce nārādhentī”ti.


Kesisutta? AN 4.111


Wow. You have to be really lost to the defilements if even the Buddha thinks you are a lost cause


this is great, anyone know of any more?



AN 3.22 regarding three types of patients?


I am not sure if this qualifies as an answer, but in AN 6.87 the list of qualities of those who cannot enter the Path is as follows:

“Mendicants, someone with six qualities is unable to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities even when listening to the true teaching. What six? They murder their mother or father or a perfected one. They maliciously shed the blood of a Realized One. They cause a schism in the Saṅgha. They’re witless, dull, and stupid. Someone with these six qualities is unable to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities, even when listening to the true teaching.

The “witless, dull, and stupid” quality would support the notion that the Path that the Buddha teaches asks a lot of those who strive for release, and without mental acuity, they have little hope for success. Perhaps it implies that they are unteachable.


Most famous one I can think of is from chapter 5 of the Dhammapada, on Fools. Such a brilliant simile, like a spoon that cannot taste the flavour of the soup!

Though a fool attends to the wise
even for the rest of their life,
they still don’t experience the teaching,
like a spoon the taste of the soup.

If a clever person attends to the wise
even just for an hour or so,
they swiftly experience the teaching,
like a tongue the taste of the soup.

Reminds me of an English expression describing a fool, “A slotted spoon holds no soup”.


Maybe this refers to a passage in the Mahaparanibbana Sutta, where the Buddha gives last instructions to Ananda:

DN16:6.4.1: After my passing, give the prime punishment to the mendicant Channa.”

“But sir, what is the prime punishment?”

“Channa may say what he likes, but the mendicants should not advise or instruct him.”

This is actually the application of the “killing” explained in AN 4.111 which has been linked above. And in Channa’s case, the punishment works, and later on he not only is ready to listen to and heed advice, but even becomes an arahant.


This might be the one I remembered!! I thought it was a list of kinds of persons, although in my memory, it specifically mentioned not being able to understand the teachings, but my memory is definitely faulty, so I may be wrong about that. Thank you!

1 Like

Thank you all for these suttas. I’m very grateful for the help and your collective knowledge!


This is controversial, he subsequently became an arahant through his own efforts:

" When Ananda visited Channa at the Ghositārāma and pronounced on him the penalty, even his proud and independent spirit was tamed; he became humble, his eyes were opened, and dwelling apart, earnest and zealous, he became one of the arahants, upon which the penalty automatically lapsed (Vin.ii.292)."—Palikanon

1 Like

One of the dhātu teachings indicated in SN/SA Dhātu Saṃyutta is “ethical or moral dhātu”, which also means “personal characteristic or nature”.
Based on this notion of dhātu, there are people whose dhātu “personal characteristic or nature” cannot be changed easily, thus are unteachable.
See pp. 139-143 in Choong Mun-keat, The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism:
Pages 139-143 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (358.7 KB)

That is impressive consider there are references to the Buddha teaching brain damaged people.

The example I am thinking of is the Buddha teaching one such man to concentrate/meditate ( still his mind ) by repeatedly folding and unfolding a piece of cloth.

The “unteachables” must be that way because of not having open minds.

1 Like

This must be the story of Cūḷapanthaka. He tells his story in his own Theragatha, Thag 10.4. We also find a mention in the AN that he is great at creating a mind-made body and at the evolution of consciousness (AN 1.198-199). And the Buddha praises his meditation in Ud 5.10.

The Vinaya still has the rather hilarious story of how he is instructing the nuns at Pc 22.


There is some where a sutta where a group of people from another faith asks to be accepted in his order and the Buddha advises them for their own good that it is much better for them to stay in their own faith. Not sure which Sutta.